New Normal, New Tech: 4 Ways to Transform the Modern Office

In Brief

  • The work world has changed, and businesses can apply technology to create flexible, safe and collaborative spaces that help offices work better in a new normal
  • Small tech investments made during the building design and construction process can yield big payoffs for office functionality, employee morale and business productivity
  • Here are four ways technology can help meet the demands of a changing work world:
    1. Flexible employee spaces: Hoteling, electronic paper display (EPD) signage, locker systems and configurable office space can help companies manage and automate in-office/remote work split
    2. Flexible gathering spaces: Meeting spaces can be outfitted with technology tailored to room size, layout and intended use. Wayfinding can help employees and visitors locate amenity rooms that feature touchless technology and access control for enhanced sanitation and security
    3. Flexible collaboration: Hybrid meeting spaces can be designed to accommodate a mix of in-office and remote attendees, supported by tiered technology fallback plans that help improve reliability
    4. Office health and safety: Keyless entry, touchless lockers and touchless microphones coupled with well-defined cleaning processes can help companies maintain sanitary spaces

More than 100,000 workers are returning to downtown Minneapolis offices as the pandemic subsides – but the work world has changed. Health and safety concerns, technology innovations and a shift from in-office work to a hybrid in-office/remote work mix are inspiring architects, property managers and business leaders to rethink how an office operates.

Thoughtful technology decisions made during the building design and construction process can yield big payoffs for office functionality, employee morale and business productivity. Here are four ways technology can help meet the demands of a changing work world.

 

1. Flexible employee spaces

Architects, property managers and business leaders can create flexible employee spaces that can help improve work satisfaction and foster productivity.

Hoteling

Many companies are replacing traditional assigned workspaces with hoteling, where employees can reserve time slots at different workstations depending on their needs. For example, an employee might reserve a desk for the morning and a conference room for the afternoon.

Technology streamlines hoteling through self-serve systems that help reduce administration activities and costs. Companies can consider common hoteling tech such as electronic paper display (EPD) signage, locker systems and scheduling software.

EPD signage

EPD signage can dynamically display daily schedules, reservation status and employee names outside offices, conference rooms and workstations. It replaces traditional paper signage with cost-efficient digital displays.

EPD signage wirelessly syncs with scheduling apps to simplify hoteling. Daily schedules and assigned spaces are automatically updated so it’s clear which employee has reserved which space, and for how long.

Some EPD signage solutions are portable, so they can be moved from one conference room to another or even placed in unconventional spaces, such as outdoor meeting areas.

Locker systems

Unassigned workstations create a need for a place for employees to securely store their valuables and documents. Modern, keyless locker systems are one option. They offer greater security and reliability than traditional keyed entry units, which are prone to key loss, theft and mechanical failures.

RFID chip technology can tie lockers to employee badges or smartphones, so that each employee has their own assigned locker. Companies can also empower employees to reserve their own lockers via scheduling apps.

Configurable office space

Configurable office space can reshape an office without changing permanent structures. These flexible spaces allow offices and meeting spaces to be moved, removed or reconfigured quickly, without disrupting core architecture.

Configurable office space can enable businesses to stagger employee schedules. Companies bring in different groups on different days of the week. Configurable installations such as digital signage with push notifications can automate this process.

For example, companies can label each day of the week with a different color (or animal or other code word). Digital signage reminds employees which day it is – Green Day or Yellow Day, for instance – and automatically reassigns rooms or offices based on the day.

Automated push notifications keep employees informed about workspaces each day and notify them of any reassignments.

 

2. Flexible gathering spaces

The rapid rise of remote work during the pandemic – just as common spaces were becoming a standard feature of modern offices – exposed a need for flexible meetings that cater to both in-office and remote employees. Going forward, hybrid meetings are here to stay. For many companies, the need for flexibility extends to amenity rooms and configurable office space.

Meeting spaces

Interruptions due to technology troubleshooting waste time and the costs can add up. Even a few minutes delay in every meeting can cost companies tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. Those problems are compounded by evolving meeting spaces that stray from the traditional boardroom toward socially distanced, casual seating and a mix between in-office and remote meeting participants.

Different meeting spaces often require different technology configurations. For example, the audio/video requirements of a typical boardroom can differ significantly from an auditorium-style conference room, a training or presentation room, a client meeting room or a small huddle/breakout room.

Companies can design for these different room functions to create innovative, practical and inclusive meeting spaces outfitted with technology that’s tailored to room size, layout and intended use.

Additional considerations include office-wide standardization and technology maturity: “road tested” technology that is standardized office-wide helps reduce troubleshooting time and is more reliable.

Amenity rooms

Amenity rooms help companies attract top talent and offer health, wellness and recreation opportunities. Examples include on-site fitness centers, privacy/relaxation rooms, libraries, mother’s rooms and bars. Technology can help maintain efficient and safe amenity rooms.

Wayfinding

Digital signage helps employees and visitors quickly find amenity rooms and funnels foot traffic through safe lanes that do not disrupt the work environment.

  • Color-coded maps placed in lobbies and outside elevators
  • Directional signage placed in hallways and at intersections
  • Informational and room identification signage

One key benefit is the ability to change wayfinding paths and room locations as offices evolve or in response to current events. For example, if an employee privacy room location is changed, digital signage can be updated instantly. Or companies could temporarily reroute foot traffic during an on-site event or in response to a health crisis.

Cleanliness

Maintaining sanitary spaces is a function of process plus technology. For example:

  • EPD signage can remind employees about amenity room rules and walk them through clean-up processes
  • Touchless technology, such as keyless entry or soap dispensers, helps prevent the spread of disease
  • Air purifiers, UV-C lighting and electrostatic sprayers work on autopilot to reduce airborne and surface microbes
Automated scheduling and security

Automated scheduling empowers employees to reserve amenity rooms and equipment without administrative oversight. In addition, companies can set capacity limits that allow for safe social distancing.

Security is another important factor, especially for offices that offer 24/7 access to amenity rooms such as fitness centers. Companies can help keep employees safe and secure – plus protect their assets – via technology such as:

  • Touchless entry with access control. These systems can record timestamped employee entrances and exits
  • Video surveillance systems that record all activity and serve as criminal deterrents
  • Burglar and intrusion alarms that alert authorities to unauthorized access
  • Fire alarms, emergency alert systems and VESDA (Very Early Smoke Detection Apparatus) systems for enhanced room safety

 

3. Flexible collaboration

Hybrid meetings

Hybrid meetings that accommodate a mix of in-office and remote attendees are the new normal. Companies can help improve safety, efficiency and productivity with reliable technology that simplifies communication and sharing. Some technologies that can help:

  • Video conferencing that fosters collaboration. Each participant is empowered to share their ideas, documents and drawings and feel like they are an active part of the meeting. Technology such as 360-degree cameras and web conference integration with popular platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams cater to the modern meeting space layout and hybrid meetings
  • Interactive displays and video walls that enable participants to wirelessly cast their own ideas, drawings and documents to the board foster rich discussions and group problem-solving
  • Sound masking technology that directs audio into and across the meeting space while keeping it from bleeding into other office spaces
  • Touchless microphones that reduce the potential for contamination and provide an immersive experience for all meeting attendees
  • Wireless video and audio solutions plus low or no-touch system operation minimize touch points
  • Automatic meeting recording that makes it easy to reference key discussions and serves as a formal record of meeting outcomes
  • Secure software and hardware, especially in a connected world, that ensures meeting recordings, notes and documents are encrypted and only accessible to authorized users
Tiered technology fallback plans

Delays and rescheduling caused by technology glitches and operator error are the “silent killers” of modern meeting productivity. To mitigate these issues, project designers often design rooms and technology to support a tiered technology “fallback” approach:

  • Plan A: Full 360-degree room camera and room mics
  • Plan B: Meeting participants use Zoom on their laptops plus room mics
  • Plan C: Meeting participants use earbuds for sound
  • Plan D: Meeting participants call in

A proactive fallback plan that accounts for technology and includes a well-documented process can help companies avoid costly downtime.

Try before you buy

Meeting room technology can look good on paper, but may fall short once deployed in an actual building. Before you invest in a new approach, request a demo of the technology from your vendor or tour other companies’ facilities using the same or similar technology. See for yourself how it works in a real-world environment.

Cellular phones

Returning workers have become more used to doing business on their cell phones. Cell phone capacity needs for your office will likely increase. It’s a good idea for companies to make sure cellular phone signal coverage is strong and can support increased call volume and data demands.

It’s not always enough to rely on cell towers outside the building. If external and internal structures block cell signals or create dead zones in the office, companies might want to consider adding distributed antenna systems (DAS) to amplify and distribute cell coverage throughout their building. A good first step is to map signal strength throughout your office.

 

4. Office health and safety

Health and safety are expected to continue to be important considerations in the modern office. Technology can be leveraged to reduce touch points, maintain safe cleaning processes and sustain sanitary office space.

Touchless office

From keyless entry to touchless lockers and microphones, technology keeps surfaces clean and limits the spread of disease.

Safe cleaning processes

Companies might want to think through how to design offices and procedures for cleanliness. For example, easy-clean surfaces don’t have nooks and crannies that collect microbes, and they take minimal effort to sanitize.

Technology selection plays a crucial role as well. In addition to touchless tech, project designers can consider devices that are easy to clean and maintain.

Since cleanliness is a function of tech plus technology, companies can develop clear, easy-to-follow cleaning protocols and post them in relevant spaces. For example, EPD signage placed in a conference room can remind participants to sanitize tables and chairs before they leave. Instructions might cover processes plus supplies to avoid a costly mistake – for example, damaging an expensive microphone by using an improper cleaning solvent.

As processes evolve, EPD signage can be instantly updated. Coupled with intelligent technology choices and processes, companies can protect their investments, help maintain employee safety and keep the office clean and functioning over time.

The COVID-19 pandemic spurred massive changes in how business is conducted. Businesses have had to quickly evolve to survive – and have revolutionized the work environment in the process. As employees return to the physical office, thoughtful design-in of the right technology up front can make a huge difference in keeping employees safe and deliver enormous benefits in office function, employee morale and business productivity.